ADL calls for new laws to combat online anti-Semitism
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ADL calls for new laws to combat online anti-Semitism

Recommendations include requiring social media platforms to make it easier for users to report abuse

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaks at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014 (courtesy ADL)
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaks at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014 (courtesy ADL)

WASHINGTON — The Anti-Defamation League released recommendations Thursday to help combat the rising tide of anti-Semitic abuse that spread online during the recent US presidential election.

Among the measures advocated by the anti-hate watchdog group are stronger state cyber-stalking laws to prohibit harassment on digital platforms, more governmental funding for enforcing existing anti-harassment laws and a comprehensive federal review of the phenomenon. It also called for new laws to “criminalize new forms of online abuse.”

In a report last month, the group found a dramatic uptick in the harassment of Jewish journalists during the election campaign, with more than 2.6 million tweets in a one-year time frame containing language commonly associated with anti-Semitic vitriol.

The study found the vast majority of perpetrators were self-identified alt-right supporters of then-Republican nominee Donald Trump. The alt-right is an amorphous designation that encompasses an array of far-right activists, and includes white supremacist groups, “white nationalists” and neo-Nazis.

The report follows the ADL’s formation of a task force last summer to study the resurgence of anti-Semitic rhetoric and abuse on popular social media platforms.

Jewish journalist Julia Ioffe received neo-Nazi death threats from Donald Trump supporters, including an image depicting her as a concentration camp inmate, after writing a profile of Melania Trump in GQ. (Screenshot from Twitter)
Jewish journalist Julia Ioffe received neo-Nazi death threats from Donald Trump supporters, including an image depicting her as a concentration camp inmate, after writing a profile of Melania Trump in GQ. (Screenshot from Twitter)

Several Jewish journalists — including Julia Ioffe, CNN’s Jake Tapper, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and The New York Times’s Jonathan Weisman — had chronicled the virulent rhetoric and, in some instances, wrote of threats leveled against them personally.

“We all have a collective obligation to confront online hate, and we must do so urgently. It’s normalizing anti-Semitism, hate and prejudice, and fracturing our society in a way that is unsustainable,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement released with the new recommendations.

The attacks on Jewish journalists reflected a rise in hate-group rhetoric throughout the campaign, according to ADL.

After Weisman tweeted a link to an essay by the neoconservative political scientist Robert Kagan about Trump’s candidacy, titled “This is how fascism comes to America,” the Times editor found himself the target of a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse. He responded by retweeting many of the tweets directed at him.

Ioffe, too, was subjected to a campaign of insults and threats through social media, emails and even threatening phone calls after she published an April 28 GQ article on Melania Trump. “I’m getting phone calls from a blocked number that play Hitler’s speeches when I pick up,” she tweeted.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses a campaign rally at the National Western Complex in Denver, Colorado on November 5, 2016. (AFP/ MANDEL NGAN)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses a campaign rally at the National Western Complex in Denver, Colorado on November 5, 2016. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Roughly half of the recommendations — which also included advice for journalists and the victims of abuse — were directed at the social media industry.

The ADL’s statement noted Twitter’s announcement this week about its new anti-abuse policies, which include allowing its users to mute notifications that include certain keywords and giving them a more direct way to report harassment. Twitter will also retrain its support staff to respond to reported violations more promptly and effectively.

In the ADL report, journalists are encouraged to “use more speech” to educate against harassment, including responding to perpetrators to make them “pause and consider their choices before sending the content.”

The committee that studied this wave of hate over the last year comprised members of the media and academics at leading journalism schools in the United States.

The group Included Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Brad Hamm, dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism; and Leon Wieseltier, former literary editor of The New Republic and now a contributing editor at The Atlantic and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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